How to Avoid Fights While Traveling as a Couple
Like relationships, every trip with a partner will come with its share of conflict. Travel, despite its blessings, involves lots of factors likely to result in fights: time crunches, financial pressure, changes in plans, extended periods in close quarters, and more.
Being on the road can be stressful, and nerves can get frayed. Occasionally, fights while traveling as a couple are likely to arise.
Since we’ve started traveling together, we’ve had a fight or two (or three) on the road. Some have been quick and easy to resolve, while others were bigger, longer lasting, and touched upon deeper issues that were going on with one (or both) of us.
Over time, these have left us with a stronger, healthier relationship and a few lessons to make future dust-ups shorter, less painful, and more constructive. Though conflicts can be painful, learning to deal with them helps you to become a better, more mature individual.
And as you go, you’ll also discover the best ways to quickly fix potential issues and avoid fights on the road. We’ve got a few tips to help you learn these skills even faster.
(One nifty benefit of the following advice is that can be applied to trips with friends as well as with romantic partners. Whether you are traveling with a pal or a significant other, it’s surprising how many of the same notions apply.)
Know Thyself & Know Thy Partner
Before heading off with your travel buddy, put your knowledge of your respective personalities and habits to good use. Is one of you an introvert who will need time to herself while on the road?
If so, think ahead about some solo activities that will give the introvert time to recharge–and give the extrovert time to seek out other like-minded socialites.
For new travel partners, you might want to discuss your temperaments and needs prior to departure.
What are you and your partner going to do with your time while away from home? If your ideal day in a new city involves hanging out in a cafe and reading, whereas your partner would rather be base jumping, failing to plan time for both activities can result in hurt feelings and resentment.
So think ahead about your respective favored pastimes and energy levels, and take turns indulging each of your interests–or plan to split up for a given length of time and meet up later.
The principle of thinking ahead about potential stress points and planning for how to handle them can be applied in numerous aspects of travel.
Exercising this principle will not only make your trips more fun but also will make you a better couple: the knowledge that you gain on the road can be applied at home.
The art of getting along can help the more laidback, amenable partner become accustomed to asserting their needs and desires, and it can give the more assertive, dominant partner practice in leaning back and giving their significant other equal consideration.
Be on the Same Page Money-Wise
How to handle your money is another major consideration. If each travel partner has their own bank account, it is important to keep the trip’s expenses within everyone’s capabilities.
What kind of accommodations is each partner expecting, and what kind of middle ground can you find? Will you and your partner be spending from the same pool of cash? If so, you ought to consider how you will track your respective expenditures.
It may be a good idea for the more fiscally-minded partner to act as a bookkeeper, who will ensure that your spending does not exceed your budget. The other partner can then report their spending.
This way, no one will be surprised, a week into the vacation, by how much money has left your bank account. Everyone is accountable and in the know, and fewer heads will roll.
Here’s a great, detailed piece on trip planning tips, to help you better prepare every aspect of your trip in advance.
Learn to Manage the Unexpected
Of course, you can’t plan for everything. Travel, especially long-term travel, will test your relationship in ways that you simply won’t foresee.
Flights will be cancelled, viruses will be contracted, and unexpected expenses will crop up. These issues are stressful enough on a solo trip, but can often be compounded when traveling with a companion.
This is when flexibility, communication, and stress-busting techniques become extra-important.
When you travel, just like when you get out of bed in the morning, things will go wrong.
Count on it; embrace it; cultivate the expectation of it within yourself. Like Gandalf said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
I second this with one qualification: not even keeping your feet will truly make you safe from the unexpected.
The more that you internalize this unpredictability as an inherent quality of travel, the less that inevitable mishaps will seem like cosmic injustices. You can learn to look on them as chances to exercise patience, strength, and appreciation of the untameable nature of life.
Prepare to Learn a Lot About Your Partner
The same notion of unpredictability applies to your partner. He is not quite who you think he is, and vice versa. When you travel with him, being in close quarters will show you habits, behaviors, and aspects of each other’s personalities that you’ve never seen before, and your partner’s qualities will brush up against yours in heretofore unknown ways.
Relationship-time accelerates, and conflicts that might have taken years to arise otherwise will rear their heads here and now. (This happened when we spent 5 months living out of a campervan in Australia, our first long-term travel experience together. You learn a lot in those close quarters!)
Your partner, like all people, is infinitely complex and mysterious. You will never know all there is to know about him, or even about yourself, but travel is a good opportunity to try.
Treating your irritation (and anger, and disappointment) at your partner’s ways as natural and inevitable experiences that will pass, rather than as signs of intractable differences between you, will put you in a much healthier mindset.
While a flexible mentality is a good starting point for lower stress and relationship tension on the road, it’s not enough. To stay in tune with your partner’s wants, needs, and state of mind, you’ve got to communicate with him. This may be obvious, but it’s also surprisingly easy to forget.
There are a number of reasons why we may choose to keep our worries or grievances to ourselves. Perhaps we don’t want to cast a shadow on our partner’s good time; if our partner is especially sensitive or volatile, we may even keep our feelings to ourselves so as not to “rock the boat.”
For the more introverted or reserved among us, sharing our feelings may be an unnatural act that we have to habitually force ourselves to undertake.
Sometimes, keeping our feelings to ourselves is a sensible and appropriate thing to do–not every minor annoyance is worth the risk of unleashing deeper, more serious emotions between you and your partner.
But in the long term, and particularly in the close and constant confines of travel, you should lean toward open communication.
All of the usual advice for conflict resolution applies: speak calmly and politely, listen (in general) as much as you talk, and put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If anything, these techniques are even more important than usual, as the natural stresses of being attached at the hip in an unfamiliar place can raise tensions.
(If you or your partner truly cannot handle open communication, or if one of you takes out her negative feelings on the other in an excessive way, her problems may run deeper than can be handled between the two of you. In that case, one or both of you should seek professional help.)
Take Care of your Emotional Needs
A final means of avoiding potential fights is to develop little strategies that you can use on your own, in the moment, when you feel yourself about to blow. How can you disrupt the loop of frustrated thinking before it builds into something worse?
Can you slip away for a few minutes and take a walk down the airplane aisle? Stick in your earbuds and listen to a song or a bit of a funny podcast? Take a bathroom break to give the anger time to subside?
It’s also vital to be focusing regularly on your own self-care. When you fail to do this, its far easier to find your patience is thin and your temper is short. You also might be more sensitive to the stress of delays, budget issues, or other problems.
In short, it’s a recipe for travel fights. Take some time daily to provide yourself with the love & attention necessary to meet your needs.
↠Check out our tips on self-care for travelers. ↞
When Fights Happen Anyway…
Flexibility will take you a long way toward your goal of happy travel; communicating your feelings and expectations will take you even farther. Improvising in-the-moment solutions to stress and conflicts can head potential fights off at the pass.
But sometimes, all of these strategies will fail you. Having a fight while traveling as a couple or with a partner is not just inevitable–it’s totally normal. In our next post, we’ll focus on the best ways to deal with those arguments when they occur.